Vulture Quest 3rd -7th October 2010

Bushchat Spanish Holiday Home Sotogrande (25)

Two weeks on from my last trip, Clive, Morten and I set out for Southern Spain for five days to see if we could find Ruppell’s Vulture amongst the migrating raptors. This was our main target but could we top September’s species count of 159? Many Summer migrants had left but would the wintering birds make up the numbers?…

Arriving at 11am on the Easyjet flight from Gatwick, it took only 30 minutes to reach the carhire Office in Spain and by 12.30 we were heading out of La Linea along the coast road with a brief stop to watch good numbers of immature Northern Gannet offshore. The first stop was the Alcadaisa Ridge which once again turned up trumps with great views of PEREGRINE, EURASIAN HOBBY, 20 BOOTED EAGLE, 12 EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK and 2 RED KITE. Further along the track the first of over 200 EURASIAN VULTURES floated overhead. Amongst the raptors small parties of PALLID , COMMON and ALPINE SWIFT raced south towards the Straights.

The farm track to San Roque  was quieter but a WESTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER, NORTHERN WHEATEAR, 2 PIED FLYCATCHERS and plenty of RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS kept the excitement going. The woods at PINAR DEL REY were next and we quickly located FIRECREST, CRESTED TIT and SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER. As it was a Sunday the woods were filled with local Picnic goers and so we decided to try our luck at the Los Barrios Rubbish Tip. On the way we  saw a HAWFINCH and passed an impressive flock of 200 WHITE STORK, before stopping on a hillside to “scope” a stream of Vultures moving south. Within minutes of getting out a smaller vulture with diagnostic white under wing bars flew straight over the top of us, but quickly disappeared from view. It was almost certainly a RUPPELL’s VULTURE.  Lingering a little longer at this stop, I waited whilst Morten began to get excited at the site of an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle sitting in a nearby Pylon .. before explaining that it has been there for 10 years as its a wooden replica! After a few laughs we moved onto the Tip where a few BLACK KITES joined the scavenging VULTURES, one of which showed good potential for Ruppell’s but the distance and poor views forced us to.

Short-Toed Eagle

A brief visit to Castella De Le Frontera added BLUE ROCK THRUSH, LESSER KESTREL, RAVEN and  CRAG MARTINS. then on the way back to Sotogrande, we made a final stop to check out the Plains behind Castella Town. Here there were 40 WOODLARK, 7 TAWNY PIPIT and good numbers of SERIN. We unpacked at the villa and then headed down to Sotogrande where we enjoyed an Italian meal and reflected on the 65 species seen during the afternoon.

Monday 4th October

At first light we headed to the Guadiaro Reserve opposite the apartment.  It was a beautiful day and the bright early morning sunshine helped us get great views of a LITTLE BITTERN. Offshore  3 BALEARIC SHEARWATERS headed rapidly towards the Atlantic Ocean in between at  least 50 Gannets that plunged  and dived for fish. The estuary produced a WHIMBREL, OSPREY and small numbers of KENTISH PLOVER, Sanderling and Ringed Plover.

Iberian Chiffchaff
Iberian Chiffchaff

Later that morning we headed for the Raptor Watchpoint just outside Algerciras. Here we met local Spanish Birders and witnessed good numbers of BLACK STORK, EURASIAN GRIFFON VULTURE, SHORT -TOED EAGLE, BOOTED EAGLE and MARSH HARRIER plus Eurasian Sparrowhawks. After 2 hours and a hearty brunch of Ham and Cheese Rolls, we headed to the El Mirador watchpoint where a juvenile EGYPTIAN VULTURE dodged the wind turbines and headed towards Tarifa.

Deciding that La Janda was worth a visit, we headed past Tarifa, and stopped briefly to admire a flock of 50 plus CALANDRA LARK in the fields beside Los Lances Beach. Apparently the main flock there numbers over 400 Larks!

At La Janda we were treated to 2 BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE, 600 WHITE STORK, 200 GLOSSY IBIS, 1 SQUACCO HERON, 2000 CATTLE EGRET, 70 ALPINE SWIFT and 30 SPANISH SPARROW. The track towards Benalup was also fruitful with 6 TURTLE DOVE, 25 LESSER KESTREL and good views of 8 STONE CURLEW.

We headed back to the villa , before eating out in Pueblo Nuevo, enjoying some well-deserved beers as we did the days log. 109 species to date.

Tuesday 5th October

Laguna de Medina was the main venue for the days birding and so we headed out early to the Palmones Estuary before joining the new main road towards Seville. At Palomones we had good views of BLUETHROAT and KINGFISHER, as well as SPOONBILL and various waders, gulls and terns.

A brief stop to scan the lakes on the way to the laguna, helped us locate RED-CRESTED POCHARD and a stunning SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE.

The Laguna was once again a fantastic place to bird. The highlights included: GREAT WHITE EGRET,2 PURPLE GALLINULE, 2 PENDULINE TIT, MELODIOUS, OLIVACEOUS, GREAT REED and CETTI’S WARBLER, plus 2 IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF AND an amazing flock of 90 STONE CURLEW. On the water we watched 100 WHITE-HEADED DUCK, 200 BLACK-NECKED GREBE, and thousands of Coot and commoner duck. Two BLACK TERNs hawked the lake and another Little Bittern and 2 more Squacco Herons showed briefly. Lunch was in the newly built hide and then we headed for the Cadiz lagoons.

South of Cadiz we managed to find 2 SLENDER-BILLED GULLS, a MEDITERRANEAN GULL, an AUDOINS GULL and in some shallow pools, good numbers of CURLEW SANDPIPER, LITTLE STINT, BLACK-WINGED STILT and hundreds of Ringed and Kentish Plover.

We had planned to eat out in Tarifa that evening and so we drove to the Bolonia Ridge. Here we stopped in the late afternoon sunshine and were extremely lucky to find a group of roosting Griffon Vultures and in amongst them a fantastic RUPPELL’S VULTURE. We enjoyed coffee and celebrated with ice creams and had more great scope views. Further along the ridge we found an obliging THEKLA LARK.

The day finished in Tarifa. Groups of CORY’S SHEARWATERS sailed past the harbour mouth, as we enjoyed a fine Spanish Red wine and toasted  143 species so far.

White- Rumped Swift

Wednesday 6th October

Another bright and early start, and we arrived at the old El Faro lighthouse at Alcadaisa. 2 CIRL BUNTINGS greeted us and many SPANISH YELLOW WAGTAILS on the adjacent golf course. There is a small river that forms a lagoon about 1 mile along the beach and so we headed off. The beach scrub was alive with birds and in no time we had found 2 Blue Rock Thrush, SHORT-TOED LARK, Southern Grey Shrike, 2 Whinchats, and big numbers of finches and wagtails. A small group of Red-Rumped Swallows flew over and then amazingly a pair of WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTS joined them and then spent 30 minutes patrolling the beach.  Very exciting!

Lunch at the villa was a treat as we watched Black Stork and Booted and Short-Toed Eagles pass overhead. We then went to the Castellar Road and scanned for raptors. After 30 mins we had seen plenty of Booted and Short-Toed eagles and then Morten found a fine BONELLI’S EAGLE. Another trip to The Plain saw us find the first HONEY BUZZARD of the trip. More Short-Toed Larks and Tawny Pipits were found. The day finished with a further visit to Palmones Estuary. A flock of AVOCETS circled overhead and landed in front of us and good numbers of terns and waders helped us to 157 with one morning to go….It was time to try the local Argentinian Grill House!

Thursday 7th October

We woke on our final morning to a Little Owl outside the villa! We packed and departed the villa, before heading to Castellar de la Frontera. We stopped in the woods and went to the hillside view point. We saw 2 Hawfinches and then had a Nuthatch .. species 159! The morning was great and we had amazing views of a family of Lesser Kestrels. At the airport we had time for a coffee on the roof and  witnessed good numbers of raptors circling over the Rock of Gibraltar – including Egyptian Vulture, Peregrine, Booted and Short- Toed Eagles. Our flight was on time and we departed happily knowing we had found our target bird and matched exactly the last trip total!

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